Who Will Bell the Cat?

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This is an entry from six weeks ago that I neglected to finish and post.

Now that his mother, Dorrie, is dried off, I have needed to get the weaning ring out of the nose of my steer Harvey. Weaning rings prevent a calf from nursing and work like clip-on earrings; they ride painlessly inside the nostrils. The only hassle about weaning rings is putting them in and taking them out, as it requires haltering the steer and snubbing him tight to a post in order to fiddle with his nose.

At five months last fall Harvey had been one of the prettiest steers I’d ever raised. Potential buyers of June Bug, my Jersey heifer, exclaimed over her and then invariably remarked of Harvey nearby, “What a handsome boy.” Though his mother, Dorrie, is black, Harvey was pure buttermilk all over. He also had a lovely broad brow and a muscled crest to his neck.

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Harvey, left, and Marty, right

Uh-oh. A glance between his legs confirmed my suspicion. When I had banded Harvey at a week old I had missed one testicle. The other was still there. My vet once referred to this accidental scenario as “short-sacking.”  With most of the scrotum gone, the remaining testicle is held close to the belly; body heat kills the sperm and renders the bull infertile — but he is still (mostly) a bull.

Day by day Harvey’s prettiness coarsened. His head broadened and his eyes began to look piggy and small. Getting a halter on and inserting the weaning ring had been a rodeo at five months, when Harvey was about 300 pounds of muscle. Now he was nine months and more like 500 pounds. And a bull, to boot. How was I going to get the weaning ring out of his nose?

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At times like these I always wish for a helper. Preferably someone bigger, smarter, younger, and braver than I.

Usually I take the calves into my smallest stall, put plenty of sweet feed in the corner manger, and in the enclosed 6’x8′ space with the distraction of a snack I manage to get a halter over their heads. My toes may get trampled but it’s all done in about ninety seconds. I started to try this with Harvey. Wheeling to get away from me, Harvey almost mashed me into a wall. I quickly realized that it was not safe to be enclosed in a small space with a panicky bull.

OK, scratch the halter. Now what?

My only option was the cows’ stanchion. I put hay and a generous helping of sweet feed in the stanchion manger. Then I let Harvey out of his stall.

Cattle do not like changes in routine. Being allowed to wander aimlessly in the barn aisle is not normal for my cattle. Harvey was nervous and spooky as he made his way down the aisle. His “twin,” Mike, bellowed at being left behind. I followed Harvey, trying to be unobtrusive.

At the stanchion, Harvey hesitated. He saw the sweet feed and was greedy for it, but did not want to put his head between the 2×4 bars. I waited.

Finally Harvey stuck his head in. I leaped forward and threw my weight against the pivoting 2×4 bar to close it. Oh, no! Harvey braced his legs and flexed his bull neck in fright. His hooves scrabbled on the floor. My 140 pounds pushing on the 2×4 was no match for his strength. The bar flew back — whack! — and Harvey was out of the stanchion and galloping down the aisle.

Well, that’s enough for one day.

It took me three nights but I finally perfected my leap to close the stanchion bar and insert the bolt before Harvey could pull his neck out. When he realized he was locked in, he fought even harder. The wooden stanchion creaked alarmingly but the steel bolt held. I reached under his face and tweaked the weaning ring out of his nose.

Here he is, back in his stall after all the commotion. No more weaning ring. A five-second job that took me half a week to accomplish.

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I regret Harvey’s missed testicle, as it’s likely to mean I will not keep him on the place until fall. Though he has not been aggressive, it’s a possibility I’m always alert for. I definitely don’t need two bulls on the farm — even if one is low-test and shooting blanks.

In the photo below Harvey is between Moxie on the left and his mother, Dorrie, on the right. He is ten months old.

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What, me a steer?

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I don’t think so.

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